First Trimester Of Pregnancy: Changes, Symptoms & Baby Growth

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Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters based on the gestational age and the fetal development. The first trimester, which begins on the first day of your last menstrual cycle and ends until week 12 of gestation, is the most crucial stage for the baby’s growth (1) (2). A woman also goes through various physiological and emotional changes during this time.

Read on to learn everything about the changes in your body and the development of your fetus throughout the first trimester.

First Trimester Changes In The Mother’s Body

The experts at UNICEF enlist the following as the common symptoms of pregnancy in the first trimester (3).

1. A missed period

A missed period is usually the first sign of pregnancy. However, a woman can miss her period for reasons other than pregnancy as well.

2. Implantation bleeding

Implantation bleeding usually happens six to 12 days after ovulation when a fertilized egg implants itself in the lining of the uterus wall (4). It is usually not a cause of concern but should be brought to the doctor’s attention, especially if the bleeding is heavy or persistent.

3. Breast tenderness

Hormones of pregnancy, such as estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin, increase the sensitivity and tenderness of the breasts (5).

4. Constipation

Increasing progesterone during pregnancy causes the intestinal muscles to relax, causing food and waste to move slower through the digestive system leading to constipation (6).

5. Vaginal discharge

During pregnancy, the cervix and the walls of the vagina become softer, and increased levels of progesterone cause an increase in the production of fluid. Increased vaginal discharge is normal, but if you notice any unusual color or foul smell, it is essential to notify your doctor about it (7).

6. Fatigue

Hormonal changes, especially the steep increase in progesterone, are responsible for fatigue in the first trimester (8).

7. Food likes and dislikes

It is common to develop a craving for some foods and dislikes or aversion to others in the first trimester (3).

8. Frequent urination

Increased pressure on the urinary bladder by the expanding uterus and the baby’s weight can lead to frequent urination (9).

9. Mood swings

Mood swings during pregnancy happen due to a combination of factors such as physical stress, fatigue, metabolic changes, and an increase in estrogen and progesterone. Substantial hormonal fluctuations of the first trimester can affect the levels of neurotransmitters, too. Neurotransmitters are chemicals released by the brain and play a role in mood regulation(10).

10. Morning sickness

Morning sickness is characterized by nausea and vomiting in the first trimester. It is quite common, and at least seven in ten women experience morning sickness in the first trimester, which typically resolves by the second trimester (11). For some women, however, severe nausea and vomiting can sometimes be associated with dehydration, weight loss and electrolyte imbalances in a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum. Speak to your healthcare provider if you suspect this.

11. Weight gain

0.5 to 2.0 kilograms or 1.1 to 4.4 pounds of weight gain is normal in the first trimester. If you lose or gain more than five to ten percent of your pre-pregnancy weight in the first trimester, you must speak to your healthcare provider (12).

12. Headache

Hormonal changes and an increase in blood volume may lead to headaches in the first trimester of pregnancy (13).

13. Heartburn

Hormonal changes often lead to heartburn in the first trimester of pregnancy (14).

14. Leg cramps

Leg cramps are most common in the third trimester but may occur at any time in pregnancy. Weight gain and changes in blood circulation in pregnancy can lead to leg cramps (15).

15. Lower back and pelvic pain

Ligaments in the body become softer in pregnancy to aid childbirth. Soft ligaments can put a strain on the joints of the pelvis and lower back, leading to lower back and pelvic pain (16).

Dos And Don’ts In The First Trimester

Follow your gynecologist’s advice for self-care during pregnancy. The following are common dos and don’ts during the first trimester (17).

Dos:

  • Continue your prenatal vitamins containing at least 400mcg of folic acid
  • Continue mild exercises
  • Incorporate lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and fiber into your diet
  • Stay hydrated
  • Focus on eating a balanced diet instead of counting calories
  • Get plenty of rest

Don’ts:

  • Avoid alcohol
  • Limit caffeine intake
  • Avoid contact with cat litter as it carries a risk of developing toxoplasmosis
  • Avoid consuming uncovered, undercooked, and raw meat
  • Avoid high-mercury or raw fishes
  • Avoid direct or second-hand cigarette smoke
  • Do not consume unpasteurized dairy products

Symptoms That Need Medical Attention

You should talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any of these symptoms in your first trimester (3)(18).

  • Severe lower abdominal cramps
  • Severe or long-lasting headache
  • Dizziness
  • Breathlessness, weakness, or racing heart
  • Continuous or severe pain on one side of the abdomen
  • Pain on the tip of the shoulder
  • Fever over 38°C or 100°F
  • Smelly vaginal discharge
  • Painful urination
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Severe vomiting with inability to tolerate food and/or water
  • A blow to the stomach from an accident, violence, fall, or crash

Baby’s Growth In The First Trimester

By the end of the first trimester, the baby turns from being a little ovum to a six-centimeter long fetus. The baby’s heart begins to beat, and the brain and the spinal cord begin to form. The hands and legs appear as tiny buds. The circulatory system, nervous system, digestive system, and urinary system begin to develop. Tooth buds begin to form.

By the end of 12 weeks, the external genitalia, fingers, toenails, eyelids, and larynx begin to form. The fetal movement also begins, although the mother cannot feel the fetal movement yet. Read more about fetal development in the first trimester here.

The fetus is most vulnerable in the first trimester. In this time period, all major organs and body systems are forming. However, the systems are not fully formed to support the fetus’ survival outside the mother’s body yet (19). If the fetus is exposed to conditions and substances, such as drugs, German measles, radiation, tobacco, and toxic substances, the newly formed organs may sustain damage. Therefore, it is vital to avoid substances and habits that could be hazardous to the fetus.

Things To Consider During The First Trimester

Apart from physical changes, pregnancy and childbirth will affect many aspects of your life. You may take some time pondering and deciding over the following factors in the first trimester.

1. Informing your friends, family, and employer

The risk of miscarriage is highest in the first trimester. Many women may prefer waiting for 12 weeks before declaring their pregnancy. However, it is each woman’s choice to decide when to tell others about their pregnancy.

You should consider whether you will continue to work after delivering your child or not and if your employer offers maternity leave or not. Based on these factors, you may decide on when to inform your employer about your pregnancy.

2. Deciding your birth plan

You should research the available options and decide on your birth plan. You should also decide on your preferred place of childbirth and the preferred form of delivery, in conjunction with your healthcare provider. You may also think about your birth companions, your specific preferences regarding the birth environment, your choices for labor pain relief, and your choice of procedures to be avoided.

3. Paying for care

Many women worry about the costs of medical bills during their pregnancy. However, in several nations, there are many good insurance plans that cover prenatal and natal care. Talk to the hospital authorities to know about the available insurance options.

You might know of your pregnancy only after a few weeks into the first trimester of pregnancy. Once you know of your pregnancy, it is recommended that you seek advice from your OB/GYN regarding your prenatal care. Adequate nutrition, hydration, and sleep can help you navigate through the hiccups of your first trimester.

Key Pointers

  • Some common changes noticed in women during the first trimester of pregnancy are a missed period, implantation bleeding, and breast tenderness.
  • You should consult a doctor if you have severe abdominal cramps, dizziness, and painful urination.
  • The baby’s growth turns from an ovum to a six-centimeter long fetus by the end of the first trimester.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Everything you need to know about the first trimester (weeks 1 to 12).
    https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/im-pregnant/pregnancy-calendar/first-trimester-weeks-1-12
  2. Pregnancy the three trimesters.
    https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/pregnancy/trimesters
  3. Your first trimester guide.
    https://www.unicef.org/parenting/pregnancy-milestones/first-trimester
  4. What is Implantation Bleeding?
    https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-symptoms/what-is-implantation-bleeding/
  5. Breast changes during pregnancy.
    https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/child-health/breast-changes-during-pregnancy.html
  6. Constipation in Pregnancy.
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/constipation-during-pregnancy/
  7. Vaginal discharge during pregnancy.
    https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/vaginal-discharge-during-pregnancy
  8. First Trimester Fatigue.
    https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=134&contentid=4
  9. What Causes Frequent Urination During Pregnancy?
    https://www.marshfieldclinic.org/specialties/obgyn/pregnancy/care-tips/pregnancy-info-frequent-urination
  10. Mood Swings During Pregnancy.
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/mood-swings-during-pregnancy/
  11. Morning Sickness.
    https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/morning-sickness.aspx
  12. Weight Gain During Pregnancy
    By Trimester.
  13. Headaches in Early Pregnancy.
    https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=headaches-in-early-pregnancy-134-3
  14. Indigestion and heartburn in pregnancy.
    https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/indigestion-and-heartburn-in-pregnancy
  15. Leg Cramps During Pregnancy.
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/leg-cramps-during-pregnancy/
  16. Back pain in pregnancy.
    https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/back-pain/
  17. First Trimester: Symptoms and Screening.
    https://www.northshore.org/obstetrics-gynecology/pregnancy/first-trimester/
  18. Warning signs during pregnancy.
    https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/warning-signs-during-pregnancy
  19. The First Trimester.
    https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=first-trimester-85-P01218
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Dr. Ng Kai Lyn

(MMed (O&G), MRCOG)
Dr. Ng Kai Lyn is a Singapore-based obstetrician and gynecologist, specializing in urogynecology, minimally invasive surgery, and clinical interest in fertility. She has vast experience managing and treating benign gynecological conditions, including uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometrial polyps, and endometriosis. She is also fellowship trained in urogynecology. She manages pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic floor reconstructive surgery, overactive bladder, urinary incontinence,... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. She also holds a certificate in lactation counselling from iNational Health... more